Skip to Content

UNU-WIDER Logo

30 Years of economics for development

WP/064 Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)

ReCom-blue-yellow-green.jpg
Many reform initiatives in developing countries fail to achieve sustained improvements in performance because they are merely isomorphic mimicry—that is, governments and organizations pretend to reform by changing what policies or organizations look like rather than what they actually do. The flow of development resources and legitimacy without demonstrated improvements in performance, however, undermines the impetus for effective action to build state capability or improve performance. This dynamic facilitates ‘capability traps’ in which state capability stagnates, or even deteriorates, over long periods of time despite governments remaining engaged in developmental rhetoric and continuing to receive development resources. How can countries escape capability traps? We propose an approach, Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), based on four core principles, each of which stands in sharp contrast with the standard approaches. First, PDIA focuses on solving locally nominated and defined problems in performance (as opposed to transplanting pre-conceived and packaged ‘best practice’ solutions). Second, it seeks to create an ‘authorizing environment’ for decision-making that encourages ‘positive deviance’ and experimentation (as opposed to designing projects and programmes and then requiring agents to implement them exactly as designed). Third, it embeds this experimentation in tight feedback loops that facilitate rapid experiential learning (as opposed to enduring long lag times in learning from ex post ‘evaluation’). Fourth, it actively engages broad sets of agents to ensure that reforms are viable, legitimate, relevant and supportable (as opposed to a narrow set of external experts promoting the ‘top down’ diffusion of innovation).
Publisher:
UNU-WIDER
Series:
WIDER Working Paper
Volume:
2012/64
Title:
WP/064 Escaping Capability Traps Through Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA)
Authors:
Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett, and Michael Woolcock
Publication date:
July 2012
ISBN 13 Web:
978-92-9230-527-7
Copyright holder:
© UNU-WIDER
Copyright year:
2012
Keywords:
experimentation, iteration, local knowledge, problem-solving, implementation
JEL:
O2, H4, K4
Sponsor:
UNU-WIDER gratefully acknowledges specific programme contributions from the governments of Denmark (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danida) and Sweden (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sida) for the Research and Communication (ReCom) programme. UNU-WIDER also acknowledges core financial support to UNU-WIDER’s work programme from the governments of Finland (Ministry for Foreign Affairs), the United Kingdom (Department for International Development), and the governments of Denmark and Sweden.
Format:
online
Back to Top

^ Back to top

1995-2014 United Nations University - World Institute for Development Economics Research

© CC BY-NC 4.0Disclaimer | Terms of Use
UNU-WIDER, Katajanokanlaituri 6 B, FI-00160 Helsinki, Finland
Tel: +358(0)9 6159911 | Fax: +358(0)9 61599333
mail: wider@wider.unu.edu/firstname.lastname@wider.unu.edu